Iran canceled “supervision of hijabs”, but it is too early to talk about “softening of Islamic norms” in the republic

Iranian authorities reacted to the wave of protests by abolishing the local institution "vice police".

The Iranian authorities responded to the wave of protests by abolishing the local institution of the “vice police”.

A photo: REUTERS

Months of protests by some Iranians “against the regime and for women’s rights” appear to have produced some results. A number of media outlets have vaguely reported that Tehran is abolishing the vice police. We are talking about the very institution whose officers on September 14 detained 22-year-old citizen Makhsa Amini for “incorrectly wearing a hijab.” However, in the police station, the girl had a heart attack, and two days later she died.

According to the liberals, Makhsa was killed; according to the conservatives, there was an accident, skillfully promoted by the Western network of influence. In any case, the rallies that broke out across the country became the most massive and bloody in recent years.

And now, as a reaction to popular unrest, the Islamic Republic is abolishing this same morality police (strictly speaking, it has several names – “religious police”, “educational patrol”, etc.). However, there is definitely no talk of relaxing the Islamic order itself or abolishing the mandatory wearing of the hijab. And, in addition to religious patrols, a large number of other special services and paramilitary structures with related functionality remain in the country; the most famous of these is the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iranian youth on the streets of Tehran.

Iranian youth on the streets of Tehran.

A photo: REUTERS

At the same time, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, recently – again, in the Oriental tradition, rather vaguely – called for a “revolutionary reconstruction of the country’s cultural system”, adding that in some areas the national cultural policy “shows weakness”.

What is meant here is not very clear. On the one hand, Iran, like any country, is not monolithic; within its elite there are several clans with very different ideological preferences. There are at least three of them: supporters of the “Islamic way” (in fact, grouped around the ayatollah); further, Iranian nationalists are part of the military and secular authorities, who are closer to the “Ataturk model” from neighboring Turkey, where 90 years ago secular reforms were combined with the construction of a strong national state. And the third, the weakest, but nurturing some of the hopes of the part – the pro-Western liberals. There are especially many of them among young people – the same age as the late Mahsa Amini.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

A photo: REUTERS

And it is obvious that, at least on the issue of “facilitating the hijab,” the last two clans can conclude a situational alliance against the first, which results in some changes in domestic politics.

Finally, Iran is one of the few major countries publicly supporting Russia in the Ukraine crisis, causing the West to make desperate efforts to punish the recalcitrant republic.

So the words of the ayatollah about the “reconstruction of culture” can hardly be compared with Gorbachev’s perestroika – these are rather slow, controlled reforms in the spirit of Deng Xiaoping’s China. When the country lifted the “iron curtain” and abolished the most radical practices of the recent “war communism”, while maintaining its order and political system.

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